12 July: I am just about 5 months pregnant with my first child, conceived after a long struggle filled with tests and appointments and inconclusive diagnoses. In a few days (on the 17th) I will have the ultrasound that will tell us if our baby is a boy or a girl. We don't care, but do want to know. My back is hurting, like bad period pains, and my stomach is hard. I panic, D calls the doctor. There is some spotting, nothing major.
A short while later, the doctor arrives, examines me and says I need to go to hospital to make sure everything's OK. He says the baby is fine.
At the hospital, we've arrived just before a shift change. The first doctor - a woman - barely speaks to me, so keen is she to get off her shift and go home. I overhear her (or the midwife, I don't know) tell the person coming on shift, "OK, this one here, you'll just have to wait till she expulses the corpse" (or words to that effect). That's how D and I discover that our baby is dead. The tears - which have been copious already - start flowing again.
I don't remember the details of all that happens next. I do know that a young nurse, a trainee nurse, stays with me, doesn't go off shift, because she feels so bad about the way we are being treated. The hospital is understaffed because it's July, just before a long weekend (14 July is a public holiday here in France, everything shuts down. It's also the start of the main holiday season).
I'm in pain, and scared, and not sure at all about what's happening. A midwife comes in and seems annoyed with me - "Why aren't you putting those birthing classes into practice?" she asks, unaware (or uncaring) that I haven't got that far in my pregnancy yet and don't know how to "give birth".
Eventually, at I don't know what time, my baby is born, dropped into a blue, plastic basin and spirited away. My tears are unstoppable. D is exhausted and distraught, as emotionally drained as I am.
After a certain time, the midwife returns, my beautiful little girl wrapped in a blanket, looking like she's asleep. I take her in my arms, totally overwhelmed at how perfect she is. Yes, she's too small (waaaay too small - 475 g, just over 1 lb), but she looks perfect. And oh, so beautiful!
I hug her, I kiss her, I tell her how much I love her. D takes her in his arms (my heart cracks open to see this tall, strong man, totally overwhelmed by the tiny child in his arms) and takes her over to the window to show her the world. He is crying and that touches me more than anything I have ever seen.
The midwife comes back and says she must take our baby away. And that is the moment I relive. If only, at that split second, I had just let her do that. But no. I had to ask the question. I had to ask, "What will happen to her now?"
Oh, cursed question! Your answer will haunt my nightmares for all eternity. I've never forgotten what that bitch said, never.
"Well, after the autopsy, the corpse will be incinerated with all the other abortion waste."
And BANG! I die a little more.
I never, never forget that horrible phrase.
I am too distraught, too foreign to realise how wrong it all is. My baby died at 22 weeks and 5 days of amenorrhoea, and in France the "cut-off" point for "abortions" vs "stillbirths" is 23 weeks. Another 2 days and my baby would have existed administratively, would have been given a funeral, would have been given a name. Just 2 days. If I had known, I would have fought for her, fought with all my might. But I didn't know, and I didn't have the strength to think about this kind of thing. I have no mementos of my baby, no photo (that's a lie: about 3 years later I finally recovered photos taken of her before the autopsy, but THOSE won't be shared with anyone; she'd been dead for 4 days and looked... forgive me for saying this, sweet girl... terrible, terrifying), no tiny footprints, no tiny handprints, nothing. Just my memories.
My eldest daughter turned 11 today. Can you imagine that? I have an 11-year-old daughter, a little girl about to go into secondary school, start a new chapter in her life. A little girl on the brink of adolescence, edging her way towards womanhood and a life of independence.
No new chapter, no secondary school, no emerging adolesence. No daughter.
I don't "have" an 11-year-old daughter, I "had" a daughter, 11 years ago. But she was already gone, before I even met her, before I held her perfectly formed, utterly beautiful, tiny, tiny body in my arms for the first and last time.
The doctor "caring" for me never touched me, never examined me, considered me a hysterical liability. The hospital couldn't get rid of me quick enough and I was discharged on 14 July (Happy Bastille Day! Yeah!), no medication (except to stop my milk - oh, the irony! For this little girl, I had milk leaking out all over the place, for my two living daughters, it never came in and... well. That's another story, for another day), no counselling, nothing. Just me and D, back home, alone.
I saw the doctor again, but he never spoke to me, and wrote in my records that I was "hysterical" (and not in the "funny" sense). He addressed all his conversation to D. For consultations, I had to go to the maternity hospital, walk past the goddamn nursery and face the "how far along are you?" question every time I checked in. He never knew what happened, and cared even less.
My baby girl died in the greatest indifference possible. D, one week later when we were in Spain on holiday (as planned beforehand - I'd wanted to cancel, he convinced me to go), told me to "pull myself together" because I couldn't stop crying and was "ruining his holiday" (this makes him seem like a monster, but it's not true; I know he was deeply affected by this too - just didn't show it like I did); my father said "I hope you aren't going to get all weepy about this...". No one cared, except my friends, my dear, sweet friends back in England. And one of them, M, still remembers, even now: she sends me a pick-me-up message every year and I love her for it.
Happy Birthday, Sweet Girl. I love you with all my heart, and you will always have a place there, for as long as I live. You are remembered, and loved, and missed more than anyone will ever know.